Oscar Pistorius 'strongly' denies girlfriend's murder
Agence France-Presse in Pretoria, Reuters in Johannesburg
South African ‘Blade Runner’ Oscar Pistorius disputes a murder charge laid against him on Friday “in the strongest possible terms,” his agent said in a statement.
Pistorius was charged with shooting dead his girlfriend in the early hours of Thursday.
A sobbing Oscar Pistorius was formally charged by a South African magistrate on Friday with murdering his model girlfriend on Valentine’s Day.
The 26-year-old superstar sprinter broke down in the dock as magistrate Desmond Nair announced a single charge of killing his lover, blonde covergirl Reeva Steenkamp.
The double amputee, an inspirational hero of last year’s London Olympics, sat hunched, audibly crying as Nair considered whether to allow the proceedings at the Pretoria court to be broadcast.
Relatives in the public gallery tried in vain to console the gold medallist.
Known worldwide as “Blade Runner” because of his carbon fibre prostheses – Pistorius is accused of shooting his glamorous lover four times at his upmarket Pretoria home in the early hours of Thursday.
She was shot with his 9mm pistol, suffering wounds to the head and hand and died on the scene.
The sprinter had spent the night behind bars and was subject to blood-alcohol, DNA and other tests, as forensics experts continued to work at the crime scene at his home.
Police have poured cold water on initial reports that Pistorius had shot his 29-year-old girlfriend after mistaking her for a burglar.
Police were called to Pistorius’s home at around 4.00am by neighbours who heard gunshots.
The Beeld newspaper, which first broke the dramatic news of his arrest on Thursday, said the shots that killed Steenkamp were fired through a bathroom door.
Pistorius became an international celebrity during last year’s London Olympics, inspiring millions as the first double-amputee to compete alongside able-bodied athletes.
Now his apparent fall from grace has equally captured the attention of millions around the world.
He was publicly adored in his native South Africa, but questions had been raised about his colourful private life that was replete with glamorous girlfriends, guns and fast cars.
“Obviously we are shocked,” his father Henke Pistorius told reporters. “He is with the police and the matter is in the hands of the authorities.”
Steenkamp, once an FHM cover girl, was described as “the kindest, sweetest human being; an angel on earth,” by Sarit Tomlins of her management agency.
Born in Cape Town, she grew up in Port Elizabeth where she graduated with a degree in law from Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University.
Police have revealed there had been previous allegations of domestic disputes at Pistorius’s home.
“There were always rumours attracted to Oscar Pistorius, but most of them I just put down to him being a celebrity,” said Kyle Wood, a 25-year-old fellow resident of the gated community.
In 2009, Pistorius spent a night in jail after allegedly assaulting a 19-year-old woman at a party.
He has often spoken publicly about his fondness for guns.
Last year he told a newspaper he sleeps with a pistol, machine gun, cricket bat and baseball bat for fear of burglars.
There are an estimated 1.5 million gun owners in South Africa, where crime remains a major problem.
Many residents keep weapons at home and equip their houses with electric fences and panic buttons that summon heavily armed guards within minutes.
In November, Pistorius tweeted about arriving home and hearing the washing machine on “and thinking it’s an intruder to go into full combat recon mode into the pantry! waa.”
Pistorius is also known as an adrenaline junkie, with a love of speed reflected in a passion for motorbikes. Four years ago he crashed his boat in a river south of Johannesburg, breaking two ribs, an eye socket and his jaw.
Empty alcohol bottles were found in the boat, but his blood alcohol content was not tested.
Until now his problems off the track had been eclipsed by his success on it.
The Johannesburg-born athlete won gold in the 4x100m relay and the 400m individual at the Paralympic Games in London. He was triple gold medallist in the Beijing games in 2008.
He was named by Time Magazine last year as one of the world’s 100 most influential people.
He had both legs amputated below the knee when he was 11-months-old after being born without lower leg bones. But he played sports unhindered while growing up, switching to running after fracturing a knee playing rugby.
Sponsors are now racing to distance themselves from the sprinter.
A South African pay television channel has canned a campaign featuring the runner.
There was no immediate comment from global sports giant Nike on its sponsorship of Pistorius, whom it featured in an advert showing the runner setting off from the starting blocks with the line “I am the bullet in the chamber”.